By Luis Felipe Palacios
TOTOGALPA, Nicaragua – A group of peasant women in this town on Nicaragua’s border with Honduras are replacing firewood and fossil fuels with solar panels and stoves.
Solar Women of Totogalpa is the name of the cooperative made up of 19 women and a man who are working to promote, produce and do research on renewable energy in the northern province of Madriz, for the sustainable development of the family and the community.
The cooperative grew from a 1999 project to reintegrate victims of landmines planted in Nicaragua during the Contra war in the 1980s, an undertaking backed by the Program of Alternative Sources of Energy at the National University of Engineering and promoted by U.S. engineer Susan Kinne.
The goal of that project was to train participants in the production and installation of photovoltaic panels to create jobs and the use of alternative sources of energy in communities that had no access to electricity, said Nimia Lopez, acting administrator of the cooperative, told Efe.
But soon the women of Totogalpa made the project their own, once they saw how solar energy could be used for cooking instead of firewood, and in that way prevent deforestation and respiratory ailments.
“We housewives like the solar stoves more because they save firewood and cooking time, there’s no ash and we don’t make smoke, said Nimia Lopez, who now has a solar oven of her own.
Yelba Maria Lopez, another peasant woman equipped with a solar panel and stove, told Efe that she previously spent up to 100 cordobas ($5) a month on firewood, but now, thanks to her solar stove, she doesn’t have to pay for firewood.
She has also slashed her electricity bill by 85 percent, she said.
Yelba Lopez said she earned the solar panel and stove in exchange for her work at the Solar Center, the cooperative’s base, where the women turn out this equipment by hand.
Stoves that operate on solar energy are constructed 70 percent of local materials and are made of wood, glass, aluminum foil, nylon sieves and a clock with a thermometer.
The solar panels are made of aluminum, glass and cells that accumulate solar energy in batteries and work perfectly for up to 25 years.
With these panels, solar energy can be generated for six hours in a home with six lamps, a television set and a sound recorder.
The acting administrator said that the Solar Women of Totogalpa are not only looking for economic self-sufficiency but are also working for the sustainable development of the community by “creating decent jobs that promote renewable energy and protect the environment.”
As the next step they plan to build a restaurant, a hotel, a small school and a day care center in Totogalpa.
The restaurant, which will offer meals cooked solely with solar energy, will by sponsored by the U.N. Development Program and the Dutch organization Hivos.
“The idea above all is to show that we can use alternative sources of energy so as not to depend on conventional energy,” Nimia Lopez said. EFE